Let me preface my remarks with the obligatory words of appreciation for shadchanim, shidduch group members, organizers of singles events, rabbis who “endorse” their activities (since obviously one needs a special heter to do these things), and all those who spend time and energy attempting to help singles get married. Even if they are utterly clueless and misguided and have caused more harm than good, singles owe them their deepest gratitude just for thinking of them and lowering themselves from their busy married perch to become involved in the personal lives of half-beings. Thank you.
Now that the formalities are out the way, it behooves us to take a closer look at some of the efforts being made ostensibly to help singles and the attitudes and notions that underlie these efforts. I have said this before, and I will say it many times again: if it is a mitzvah to help singles get married, then, like all mitzvos, there are parameters that define what constitutes acceptable performance of the mitzvah and what might even transform the action to a sin of great proportions, regardless of how sincere the intentions might be.
Furthermore, there is a fine line between trying to perform an act of kindness and having your own agenda. Spending time getting to know an unmarried person as an actual human being and trying to assist this person carefully, sensitively, and on mutually respectful terms is an act of kindness. Grudgingly spending five minutes obtaining superficial information (while making sure to let the person know how busy you are, as if they’re not), judging someone you don’t even know, making a haphazard attempt to throw two people together just to be yotzei or to “give it a shot” on someone else’s kishkes, then blaming the singles for being picky and unrealistic when it doesn’t work out is a favor to no one. Quite the opposite. Really, if you’re too busy or disdainful of singles to do it right then don’t bother at all.
Several weeks ago I took a trip to Israel, and part of the reading material I brought along for the flight was a 2006 periodical from a major Jewish organization that I had lying around. I’m glad I hadn’t thrown it out, because it contained a short pat-ourselves-on-the-back article about a singles event they had run in a local shul. The event was billed “Are You Game?” and was for singles ages 26-38.
Now, it is safe to assume that people in this age range have an advanced education and have made a serious professional beginning at the very least. Certainly those in their 30s are likely to be involved in a professional career and are perhaps already distinguished in their respective field. For one reason or another that is not your business (since you haven’t taken the time to develop a personal relationship with them) they have not yet been fortunate enough to get married. Perhaps it is a choice on their part, in which case we should give them the benefit of the doubt and trust their judgment. Perhaps they simply have not yet merited to meet the right person, and it is not your place to decide by what age such an event is supposed to have occurred and thus been neglected.
In any case, singles in their late 20s and 30s are no less accomplished and sophisticated than married people in their 20s and 30s. If anything, they may be more accomplished and sophisticated, since whether by choice or by circumstance they have had more time to devote to these areas that might otherwise be devoted to a spouse and children. Understanding this, of course, our community is busy organizing events that would appeal to an educated, accomplished, and sophisticated group of singles.
Or maybe not. “The program featured several activities including Human Bingo, Jewish Trivia, Yom Tov Word Search, and The Jelly Bean Game, all of which were planned specifically to enable the participants to chat, mingle, and become acquainted.” Prizes were given to winners of these fine games, and quite a few married people were present as “facilitators”, since singles don’t know how to talk (or perhaps behave) without married people around to “facilitate”.
If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed this to be a Shabbos afternoon activity for third-graders, a play-date for shy pre-teens, or perhaps an NCSY event for high school kids. But no, this was for singles 26-38.
Why does the community just take for granted that singles 26-38 would enjoy the same activities that little kids enjoy? Has the community surveyed its single population and been deluged with requests for more Human Bingo and The Jelly Bean Game? Or did a bunch of married people looking to be yotzei their presumed obligations to singles and perhaps be able to brag about “making a shidduch” decide that this is supposed to be fun? I can’t imagine married people of the same age ever attending such an event for recreational or social purposes, so why is it supposed to be any more fun for singles?
Or does it not matter if an event is cheesy, inherently condescending, and infantilizes people who are educated, sophisticated, and accomplished? They’re supposed to have fun even if it’s not fun (or at least pretend to have fun), and they’re supposed to show up because they’re desperate and need our help to get married. They’re supposed to pay through the nose and thank us afterward for caring (or at least pretending to care), even if they have a miserable time. If they do have a miserable time, it’s their fault, they’re unappreciative, and that’s probably why they’re not married. And they should keep coming back and doing what makes them miserable, because that’s hishtadlus, and hishtadlus must be painful.
I challenge the community to seek input from singles and to place this input on a higher footing than what the married people think is best for them. I further challenge the community to place singles in positions of leadership and to give them the ways and means to organize their own events, without married people to loom over them, hold their hands, and protect them from unseemly behavior. Singles are capable of much more than what the community gives them credit for.
If they can succeed at the finest schools and most challenging careers the world has to offer, they deserve more than The Jelly Bean Game.